by Brad Gallagher
Let’s face it. Most technology might as well be magic to the average person. When considering how to best leverage that technology, organizations need to consider both the hard and soft costs. One component that is frequently considered too late in the design process is the audio-visual control system.
Organizations obsess over the hard costs and often fail to fully consider the soft costs – This is often because they do not receive sufficient guidance in this area. Anyway, in these types of systems, staffing and ease of use are the primary soft cost most of the time. A control system is essential, because it is a force multiplier that allows you to leverage the effectiveness of those hard technology costs, while minimizing the soft costs.
Simplified Control of Audio-Visual Systems
One major consideration in a meeting space is how to control all of that technology in a simple manner. Out of all the types of spaces that employ technology, collaborative spaces have the highest ratio of complexity to operator knowledge. In other words, you may have a stadium or concert hall with an enormous amount of technology, but there will be operators whose sole task is to manage that technology. There are very few meeting spaces that are designed with the intention of dedicated operators. This brings a unique challenge.
From a purely architectural and aesthetic perspective, the only thing that you really need to consider with respect to an AV control system is where the interface will live. Typically, this is a keypad or touchscreen. In the most simplistic case, this would be a one gang panel at the door that with 6-10 buttons to control various functions of the room.
This can be “AV type stuff”, like turning on displays or it could be building management type functions, like controlling lighting, drapes, and HAVC. These control systems can easily trigger combination of events, like dimming the lights, lowering a projector and screen from the ceiling, closing drapes, and selecting a laptop as the video source.
Alternately, this could be a touchscreen, which allows near unlimited programming flexibility. The touchscreen can be either wall mounted, table mounted, or wireless. A wireless controller can either be a purpose built device or an iPad/Android device with special software.
A typical scenario is to provide a wireless controller, in addition to a wired controller (either table mount or wall mount) for backup, in case of wireless problems or sudden battery death. One scenario might be to have a wireless touchpanel with all of the necessary controls and then a 6 button keypad on the wall with the most basic functions (lighting levels, room on/off, volume, etc).
Building Management Systems
Even though these types of solutions are technology centric, it is again good for the architect and owner to have a basic knowledge of what is available. For instance, in a situation where there are multiple rooms, control systems can offer energy savings, just as a typical BMS (building management system).
Occupancy sensors can easily be integrated with custom programming, so that lights and AV equipment are shut off when not in use. This not only reduces energy consumption, but also increases the lifespan of the technology. This can be particularly true for meeting rooms with projectors that have to deal with the operational cost of projector lamp replacement.
A similar and important feature of these systems is the ability to implement room scheduling. This can be an important concept to bear in mind during space planning. Huh? Many organizations under-utilize their meeting spaces. They just assume that it’s a pain because you don’t know if a particular space will be available. It’s almost a sub-conscious occurrence. You walk into a meeting space to find that it’s occupied and you have to find another space. Repeat a few times and people will just have these engagements in a more impromptu manner in other spaces of the building.
Just a few years ago, scheduling systems were burdensome and only available to larger organizations. Today, it is simple and easy to implement and more importantly, easy for people to use. This equates to higher utilization. This may be something to bring up with clients during space planning. If they are aware that there is technology available to allow them to more fully utilize these shared spaces, they are much more likely to commit a larger portion of space and budget. This is a good thing for everyone, as it helps to create spaces that are more welcome and collaborative and organizations that are more creative and effective.
Help Desk and Remote Monitoring
Less directly related to the building itself, but still important to be aware of is the ability of these same systems to handle help desk / maintenance / monitoring functions. In large facilities, this can be a major benefit. The application of these systems is another subject entirely, but just be aware that there are systems that can monitor usage of room devices (projector, displays, etc), track failures, and allow interaction with “help desk” staff. One example is this implementation is monitoring the lamp usage of projectors. In this way, for example, a university with 20 meeting spaces can know when the lamps for those projectors are about to reach the end of their usable lifespan and take action.
Brad Gallagher is an Audio/Video Design Consultant, who has worked with some of the largest Churches in the Country. He loves leading experienced teams on large projects and working with mid-sized Churches to do amazing things on a budget. Sign up for his blog for great Worship Technology Tips.